I think I fell asleep even before my head hit the pillow last night and had slept straight through to morning. Those are the most restful slumbers, deep and uninterrupted. HH, meanwhile, did not sleep too well (too much booze). He was feeling as I was yesterday.
We had reviewed our tasks for today, last night. It was easier because we already knew what our menu was going to be having been given the course manual. It looked pretty simple. The only involved dish on our menu was Country-style forcemeat. Great! I’ve always wanted to make some kind of pate or sausage, I thought and this would be a great opportunity.
The forecast was for a hot one today. It felt really sticky this morning as we made our way to Roth Hall which housed the Farquharson Hall and the two fine dining restaurants of the CIA : American Bounty and Escoffier. For breakfast this morning we decided to skip the stage and go to the main breakfast kitchen. At the entrance was an order taker. Inside were different breakfast stations. There was an egg station, a pancake station, a breakfast meat station, etc. I decided to just order some sausages. What I got was a plate of grotesquely-formed meat patties. Okay, I reasoned, these were handmade, maybe this was how they were supposed to look. I went back to Farquharson hall to find a table. It was quite occupied to capacity this morning. I saw a lone pastry student at a large round table. She did not look too friendly although her plate of pancakes did (mental note to order pancakes tomorrow). I sat down and started to eat. HH soon arrived with my requisite cup of coffee. And then Wyatt showed up as well as Melanie –a cute, vivacious fiftyish lady who was doing this boot camp solo.
I noticed my sausage was kind of pinkish in the middle so I ate around it — must be the preservative, after all some preservatives cast a pinkish hue on meat. I was almost done when Wyatt said he was going to tell the breakfast kitchen that they needed to cook their sausages more. Great! Am I going to get food poisoning today? My appetite all gone, I announced to the hubby that I was heading into the lecture room. Oh God, I guess these students do have a lot to learn before you release them into the real world.
The topic today was Northeast France; that was the region closest to Germany, so expect a lot of sausages and sauerkraut.
There was some small talk going on as we waited for all the boot campers to arrive in the lecture room. Chef Crispo was already there and he regaled us with his current predicament of his ex-wife flying in unannounced from Scotland to discuss some “details” with him. We listened in rapt attention as he told us self-deprecating jokes about his current marital circumstances. They were probably embellished and dramatized for effect. He really should be a stand-up comedian, what with his mother-in-law references.
Oh, about Northeast France.
For some reason I knew straight away that this would be my least favorite area although it did include Ile de France whose capital is Paris so pastries like the éclair and madeleines came to mind. One pot casserole dishes are popular in the Champagne section as well as champagne (ofcourse) and beer. “A la Alsacienne” usually refers to preparations of meat braised with sauerkraut, potatoes and sausages. Spaeztles and the famous Quiche Lorraine are also from this vicinity.
Chef Crispo also lauded the usefulness of two books for the serious foodie. One was Culinary Artistry by Andrew Dornenburg and La Repertoire de la Cuisine by Lewis Saulnier. I am proud to say that I have both of these books. The first book is an ingenious resource for different ingredients and the elements (or ingredients) that would go well with them. The second book is a master reference of French Cuisine. It does not give you the recipe per se but a listing of ingredients and garnishments for a particular preparation.
Our Menu for the day was Champagne or Country-Style Forcemeat, Carbonade of Beef Allemande and Spaetzle (Alsatian Egg Dumplings)
The kitchen was probably about 90 degrees already when we got there. The KA changed our stations. The problem with this was that another team was not too pleased about it. So there was a bit of “discussion” about our taking over part of their area. HH and Wyatt tried to explain that we were told where to position ourselves. I tried to be oblivious. I think you should be able to cook no matter where you are assigned.
HH wanted to do the Carbonade beef (now why am I not surprised as this was cooked with beer) while Wyatt and I decided to work on the forcemeat. I volunteered to cut up the meat while he chopped up the vegetables. Call me weird but I love working with protein and especially fat — as in fatback. It was unfortunate that the pork liver was not available, so I had to substitute more pork butt in the recipe; I think the liver would have added another dimension to the overall taste.
After I mixed the diced meat, fatback, brandy, cooked onion and garlic, pate spice, salt, TCM (pink salt), and pepper in a mixing bowl, I asked the Chef where the meat grinder was and he in turn asked the KA to have the grinder parts ready and submerged in ice water. He also advised me to keep the meat mixture cold – an important principle of forcemeat. If the mixture gets warm it can soften and melt, and your forcemeat will lose its emulsification, much like a broken hollandaise sauce.
Chef took out his enameled cast-iron terrine and lined it with saran wrap allowing for generous overhang along the long edges. Then we got strips of bacon and very gently, laid it inside the terrine horizontally, letting the ends of the strips hang over the sides. It was very important that the plastic be positioned all the way to the sides and not be suspended partially from the bottom of the terrine because this would cause the forcemeat to have an uneven look when it gets unmolded. The vessel needed to be chilled until the mixture was ready. There was almost a somewhat fanatical aura about keeping everything cold.
When I got my forcemeat ingredients together, Chef showed me the meat grinder parts and how to assemble them. Seriously, if you ask me now how to put the parts together, I would have no clue. The meat was forced through the grinder; I guessed this is why it was called forcemeat. The mixture ground beautifully. We were supposed to pass a third of it through a smaller plate but Chef said what we had now was fine because we were doing a more rustic rendition of the forcemeat anyway. To this we added chopped parsley and an egg to further bind the mixture.
A "Quenelle" test was needed to evaluate for proper seasoning. This procedure required encasing a sample of your finished concoction in plastic and gently poaching it in simmering water. However when Chef performed this test, the meat tasted very salty. Chef said that you should expect hot forcemeat to taste a tad oversalted because it had to be served chilled. But judging by the grimace on his face when he sampled it, it was not just a “tad” oversalted. I was pretty sure I measured the ingredients correctly, so I blame the recipe. Chef suggested serving mustard as a garnish to tone down the saltiness.
After that he arranged the ground-up meat carefully in the chilled terrine. He compacted it carefully, folded the bacon gingerly to enclose it and further sealing it with the overhanging saran wrap. The terrine was then covered with its lid, a meat thermometer was inserted into the meat under the terrine lid and the vessel put in a water bath into the oven.
By this time, another class had started in the adjacent kitchen. The grills located in the center of the room dividing the two kitchens were fired up for that class. I could feel my face burning. It must be over a 100 °F in the kitchen by now and here we were steaming in our chef’s jacket!
I mixed up the spaetzle batter and showed it to the KAs. Harry said that the batter looked too thick to be spaetzle and Luke concurred. Well, I did follow the recipe! The Chef inspected it. He looked at the recipe and declared it faulty (again!). He asked me to get some milk which he added to the batter and — in an amazing pumping motion with his hand — worked the mixture into a smooth consistency. I just loved watching Chef Crispy — er I mean Crispo — in action. I’ve never, ever met such a chef like him. He was always so precise and quick – he was actually preparing for the Certified Master Chef exam – which I hear was the most revered title a chef can attain.
He spooned the spaetzle batter and swirled it in a simmering pot of salted water and looked satisfied with the results. He handed me the batter and instructed me to keep it chilled. All I needed now was to wait for the right time to finish it off for service, which by the way, was at 12 noon today. I checked in on HH to see how his “beer beef” was going. He said that he did not like how it was turning out. I took a tasting spoon to it to sample the stew and thought it tasted as it should, considering the ingredients in it.
In the mean time, the terrine was taking its own sweet time getting done. By 11 am, at a temperature of 145 °F (it had to reach 160 °F), we knew we would not be ready for 12:00 pm service. Chef said, probably also to console us that it usually takes three days to make a terrine anyway. First day you season your ingredients, second day you cook the terrine and chill it overnight. Therefore, only on the third day would it develop the right flavors.
In short we only had two dishes to serve.
I took my spaetzle batter out and started to swirl it into the simmering water. Plunk. A whole blob fell from my spoon into the water. Oh no! Where was the swirling motion ?! I pulled HH and Wyatt to the stove, gave the spoon to HH and had him swirl it. Plunk. Another blob hit the water. Maybe they were supposed to look that way? They do look like dumplings, I thought.
The chef-instructor from the other room started nosing around. He asked what we were making and I replied “Spaetzle”. “That“ he paused for effect “ is not how spaetzle looks like.” With that he went to the other kitchen and came back with what looked like smashed frozen peas. “This is the shape and texture of what a spaetzle should be.”
At that moment, Chef Crispo showed up on the scene; the other chef retreated to his side of the kitchen. “Chef! ” I wailed “It wouldn’t swirl!” I think Chef was not too pleased with the other chef minding our business, because he said “This is an Alsatian spaetzle and looks different from the regular one.” He suspected that the reason the batter was too stiff was because the gluten had developed too much from the way the whole batter was mixed. Okay was that my fault or his?
Anyway, his solution was to chop up the poached spaetzles and then proceed with the recipe, which was to pan-fry them.
Because of this dumpling debacle our timing was off again. Temperatures started to rise, both in the kitchen and between HH and myself. Service time was fast approaching and we started to get snippy with each other. Poor Wyatt, I hope he did not notice this. There’s nothing worse than getting caught in a couple’s crossfire. He was busy making the fruit salad zabaione, which was an optional dish for anyone to make and I hope he was having better luck than I was.
I sighed and realized that this experience was supposed to be fun. So I told HH, that our team’s offering hinged on his beef Carbonade, which I thought was the only truly successfully executed recipe from our original menu.
I looked around the kitchen and noticed everyone’s face was flushed and shiny. I couldn’t wait for this service to be over and to rip my jacket off. If there was a Hell’s Kitchen, this was it. Then I remembered that there was a class picture at 1:45 pm and a tableside service lecture at 3:30 pm. The day was far from over.
The rest of the morning was a blur. I do remember taking out the terrine at 11:30 am. Wyatt put it in the refrigerator with a brick on top of it. I don’t remember lunch service. It was so hot I quickly took whatever I could from the communal table and left for the CE dining room. I remembered tasting the “beer beef” and the spaetzle. Both tasted okay but not spectacular. Now Wyatt’s fruit salad zabaione was a welcome ending to the meal. It was served warm, the creamy silky texture of the custard went so well with the fruits. There were some cabbage dishes which I was indifferent to. This was not because of the recipe itself but because I was not too fond of cabbage. I faintly recollected some pork braised in sauerkraut and thought that was also good. Besides that, my memory had blanked out.
The kitchen temperature was still steaming when we returned for the critique. Chef said our beef dish was “right on” with the taste. As for the spaetzle, he blamed the recipe. I later re-read the instructions and it said to run the batter through a spaetzle maker…oops! He also commented that the Quiche Lorraine had a very authentic flavor. After that I spaced out again.
Of all days to have our picture taken, this was the worst day of all. Keith Ferris, the boot camp photographer, was lively despite the overbearing heat. We marched outside to the CE courtyard and everyone fell into place. He rearranged some attendees and told us to smile. Yeah, in this heat mine was probably more of a squint. Anyway, here is the boot camp picture. Now no snickering…that toque looks silly on me and gave me a bad hair day afterward.
The tableside service lecture and demo was held in the kitchen adjacent to the one we were using for bootcamp. There were no chairs, and the kitchen was quite unbearable from the combined hot weather and heat from this morning’s cooking. Our tableside instructor, Mr. Dee was pretty perky and, shall I say, flamboyant? He deplored the slow demise of tableside service in the restaurant world. Whether it was flambéing for Crepes Suzette or filleting a fish at the table, he said that this “front –of-the house service is a valuable art and must not be lost.” Apparently this was not just a demo as I found myself and HH behind a single standalone copper burner. We were making a shrimp dish and the first step was to flambé them with brandy. I have never done this before (HH had). What was the worst I can do, burn the brow off Mr. Dee? So I bravely volunteered. The technique was to add the alcohol off the flame, tilt the pan as you return it to the flame, shake it (this activates the vapors) and watch the alcohol ignite! Cool! I then added the shallots and the shrimp and using a spoon and fork as tongs, turned the shrimp over to let it finish cooking on the other side. After that we served it to the whole group. Each attendee took turns with the next dishes. What followed next was Caesar’s salad. The best I’ve ever tasted! It was important to crush the anchovies and garlic together. To pasteurize the yolk that would be used as an emulsifier, you had to put the egg in boiling water and take it out after 45 seconds. After that came Bananas Foster and then Steak Diane. By the time we finished eating everything, it was almost 5 p.m. and our appetites were sated.
Dinner reservation was at 6:30 p.m. How could we eat dinner after eating all these food so late in the afternoon?
St. Andrews Café
We were not even remotely hungry as we stepped into the CIA’s casual-style restaurant. Gerald and Bianca never showed up. I guess their 30-minute drive back to the bed and breakfast made it not a worthy dinner, especially if one had been served almost a complete meal at mid-afternoon. The average weight a boot camper gained at the end of the program was five pounds — I wonder why?. HH ordered a salad and decided to forego the main course. I ordered the chicken yakitori sticks appetizer and braised Korean Short-ribs. I just had two bites of the skewered chicken. I fully intended just to have three bites of the ribs but I ended up almost finishing the entire dish because it was so good. The rice that came with it tasted like it was steamed with too much water, but the ribs were very tender and hit all the right flavor points of salty, sweet and spicy. I forgot what I had for dessert which meant it was probably so-so.
What I plan to make from this region
What I learned today
1. How to make forcemeat.
2. How not to make spaetzle.
3. How to prepare mis en place and keep a clean station. Because we read the recipe ahead of time and noted what ingredients and utensils were needed, there was less running around in the kitchen this time. This also enabled us to knock-off prep one by one and keep a cleaner station (although not perfect yet).
* My thanks to Wyatt for granting me permission to use some of his pictures (Chef showing me the grinder and Mr. Dee’s flambe).